The 2015 college football bowl season is underway. On Saturday, December 26, we will see the Hyundai Sun Bowl, which features Miami of Florida (8-4) and Washington State (8-4). In Head Coach Mike Leach’s wide-open pass-heavy offense, one of the players to keep an eye on is redshirt junior wide receiver Gabe Marks.
Marks is unlikely to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft — he isn’t present in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index — but like previous smaller Leach wide receivers (such as Wes Welker and Danny Amendola) Marks has the potential to be in the NFL.
Marks isn’t a big name in college football, but he has been one of this season’s most productive and consistent wide receivers. Although he isn’t versatile — he doesn’t do anything as a runner or return man — Marks is still a good player for a smaller receiver. On the season, he is fifth in touchdowns and 20th in yards receiving for all receivers in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Here are the numbers for Marks’ three collegiate seasons:
One thing to note is that Marks has improved in each of his three years, and that he has led the Cougars in all receiving categories each of his last two seasons. He was even second on the team in receiving yards behind Marquess Wilson as a freshman.
Of course, one thing that isn’t contained in these numbers is the story of Marks’ redshirted 2014 season. Even though Marks led the team in receiving as a sophomore, Leach decided to redshirt him the next season essentially because he could live without his production. Granted, Marks was “recovering” from a very minor groin injury suffered in spring practices, and Leach had his top eight receivers from the previous season returning (some of whom were seniors), so he didn’t exactly need Marks and he didn’t want to lose his best receivers to graduation or the NFL all at the same time after 2014. Additionally, it’s possible that Leach was disciplining Marks because of the player’s off-the-field issues, as Marks had been charged with assaulting another patron at a bar he shouldn’t have even been in because he was underage. But regardless of why Marks redshirted in 2014, the fact that his head coach chose not to use him for an entire year when he was healthy enough to play doesn’t speak well for him or his team-leading production in 2013.
Having said that, I should also say that Marks in 2015 has been the team’s best player and also the most productive receiver Leach has had in his four years at Washington State. Whatever happened prior to this season, Marks has made the most of his present opportunities.
The Physical Profile
Marks is listed at six feet, zero inches, and 190 pounds. In 2013 he was listed at 176 pounds, so evidently he spent a good portion of his time off bulking up. Still, Marks is on the smaller side, and that means something for his NFL potential.
In general, a 210-pound receiver can get away with being an average athlete, especially if that player was productive in college and is a high draft pick. But a 190-pound receiver has a very small chance of having NFL success unless he is actually a good athlete, even if he was a good college producer and a high draft pick. And for all intents and purposes “good athlete” basically means “fast.”
Ordinarily, I don’t hold out much hope for players who need to be fast actually being fast in their pre-draft workouts — but I do have some hope for Marks. For starters, he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. Although he wasn’t particularly fast then, it’s possible that with his athletic talent he has built up his top-end speed.
Additionally — and this is anecdotal but still worth being said — Leach has had a couple of collegiately productive wide receivers (Welker and Amendola) who were small and not fast but who went on to have NFL success. I don’t want to overstate this. The odds of anyone becoming Welker are very small, and it’s not as if Amendola (for all his potential) has had a particularly enviable career — but it is notable that, if Marks ends up being a slow yet useful NFL receiver, he wouldn’t be the first such player whom Leach would’ve graduated from his system. That is somewhat encouraging, no?
If Marks returns to Washington State for the 2016 season, once again leads the team in receiving, and then in his pre-draft workouts runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds (or similar), he will essentially be a non-versatile version of Tyler Lockett.
If he’s slow in his pre-draft workouts, he might be the Pac-12 version of Willie Snead at best . . . or Brent Leonard at worse. Who? Exactly.
Matthew Freedman is a football writer for RotoViz, Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Fantasy Insiders, and DraftKings Playbook. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He hosts the various RotoViz podcasts and PFF Radio’s College Daily Slant. He is the creator of the Workhorse Metric. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.